DIY Home Solar Panels: How to Build Solar Panels from Scratch

A DIY home solar panels project is one that some people want to undertake to avoid the higher costs of purchasing pre-made solar panels for home use. Ready-to-use solar panels are now widely available and even though the price is continually dropping, they are still more expensive than DIY solar panels.

For a quick setup, you can easily purchase solar panels and have them installed at your home with the help of a contractor or a professional.

However, if you’re interested in, but have very little knowledge about home solar power systems, you may want to purchase a do-it-yourself kit. These kits come with complete instructions and materials to help you build your own home solar power system.

The process of how to build a solar panel may differ for various applications and may also depend on the type materials you want to use for your project. However, this basic guide explores the the general process involved in creating panels for your home.

General Guide to DIY Home Solar Panels

Planning

Be sure to plan accurately for a successful DIY home solar panel project.

Below are three important issues to consider:

Materials needed

As mentioned, your planning is dependent on the materials you use for the project. Thus, the first step to building a solar panel is to decide on which materials you would like to use. It is also good to do a little research to know which materials are readily available in your area so that you will not have difficulties acquiring them.

Space available

Also, you may want to think ahead and look at the available space for your solar panel system. It would be frustrating to simply build your solar panel system, only to find out that your roof won’t support the panels or that there isn’t enough space in the backyard to accommodate the standing panels.

Voltage required

Lastly, you need to determine how much electricity or voltage you would like your solar panel system to produce. This is important because the amount of voltage you require will determine the number of cells you need. The cell size dictates the amount or the dimensions of other materials you will need, like the frame or amount of wiring to connect the cells.

Materials

Solar cells

After your planning is complete, you will buy the materials from your planning list that you need. Of course, the first thing on the list is your solar cells. A lot of people who build DIY home solar panels settle for an 18-volt panel due to its ability to easily charge a 12-volt battery, even in conditions like gloomy or cloudy skies.

If you decide on building this type, you will find that a common 3” x 6” solar cell can generate about 0.5 volts. This means that for you to be able to achieve your 18 volts requirement, you will need a total of 36 cells for each of your panels.

When purchasing solar cells, make sure to settle for the Grade A types and steer away from the Grade B types. These have much lower quality due to the fact that they commonly have blemishes on the surface or may even have broken corners. This can affect the performance of solar panels.

Also, be aware that there are non-tabbed and tabbed types of solar cells. The tabbed type of solar cells are a bit more expensive than the ones without the tabs; the reason for this will be explained in detail when discussing the process of wiring the cells together. Furthermore, most solar cell kits are sold with bus wire, tabbing wire, solder, and flux.

Casing

After determining how you will build your solar cells, you need to decide on what materials to use for the casing that will hold the solar cells together.

There are different materials you can use, but perhaps the easiest to work with and most readily available is wood. You will also need a clear material that will serve as the top cover for your case. The most common choices for this are Lexan or Plexiglas.

Other materials and tools

Other materials that will be needed are paint for the casing, silicon caulk, heavy duty glue, and screws.

Lastly, make sure that you have your tools available, like a saw for cutting wood, appropriate glass cutters, a paint brush, screwdrivers, and protective gear like gloves and protective glasses.

DIY Home Solar Panels: Step-by-Step Process

Now that you have your materials ready, you can start building your solar panel system.

Here’s a quick, step-by-step process.

Step 1: Solar Cells Lay-out

You will first have to decide on the layout panel(s). Would you like to have the cells in a series that follow a horizontal or vertical orientation?

This can help you decide how to distribute the cells and in turn create a frame for them. The common arrangement used is to group six cells in a series. Also, you need to decide how much distance between each cell that you prefer. Once you have designed the layout, you can fit the measurement of your each casing on these dimensions.

Step 2: Casing

Next. you need to build the casing by cutting it to the appropriate size based on the solar cell layout. Cut the material you chose, such as plywood, etc., to the appropriate size. This will serve as the body or base fore each casing. Make sure to provide an allowance or space to fit in the rim pieces, which will hold and keep the solar cells framed.

Once you have these pieces ready, start putting them together by applying glue to the rim pieces and securely attaching them to the board. Once dried, they are ready for you to paint. The best paint color to apply is white, since lighter shades absorb less heat. To make sure your frames can withstand the weather, apply up to four coatings to the exterior of your casing.

Based on your layout for the solar cells, you will need to drill holes into the casing to provide outlets for the wires once you have the solar cells attached. This is also the time for you to cut the transparent material, like your Plexiglas, to fit the casing you have already created.

Step 3: Working on the Solar Cells

You now need to work on your solar cells. If you bought solar cells that do not have a tab yet, you will need to create tabbing wires and attach them to the cells to allow them to form a series. You usually need a narrow wire that measures two cell widths to build the connection. If you would like to skip this process, buy solar cells that already have the tabs.

Once you have the tabs attached to the cells, you can simply solder the tabs together to actually form your desired number of cell series. Next, you need to attach the cell to the wood using silicone caulk. Casings can be affected by heat, so too little applied may not keep the cells in place for long.

Lay out the cell series into the casing. Allow the caulk to dry set. Make sure it is securely attached.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

The last step is to pull the wires through the holes you drilled into the board. In order to keep moisture and insects out of the holes, which may compromise the quality of your solar panel, you need to seal the holes using caulk. Now, add the Plexiglas cover on the casing by screwing it to the casing.

You may also want to attach or solder a connector to the end of the wires. Make sure to use the connector type that is ideal for where you will be connecting the panel. Test your solar panel by connecting it to a voltmeter and holding the panel out in direct sunlight. A reading of somewhere between 18 and 20 volts is adequate.

This is just a basic guide on how to building your own DIY home solar panels. Remember, there are variations and even different building requirements when using other materials or processes for home solar panel systems.

For more information, click here for a comprehensive, step-by-step instruction guide to building your own home solar panel system from scratch.

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